Where’s the 2011 Pulitzer for Fiction? And Doug Strassler’s other reactions to this year’s Pulitzer Prizes

Written by Doug Strassler on . Posted in NY Press Exclusive.


Quiara Alegría Hudes.

Apparently, a spoonful of water helps the medicine go down for the members of the Pulitzer committee.

I’m referring to yesterday’s surprise announcement to award the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Drama to Quiara Alegría Hudes for Water by the Spoonful. The drama follows a young Iraq War veteran after returning home to Philadelphia. I’ve not had the chance yet to see or read this work, which bowed at the Hartford Stage Company this past October, but I can say that, sight unseen, it’s likely more deserving than one of the other previously announced finalists for the award.

I’m referring to Jon Robin Baitz’s Other Desert Cities, a back-patting soap about families unleashing Big Secrets against one another and having Big Moments. The show is a hit, thanks to a talented, starry cast both last year Off-Broadway and again in its current Broadway run. It’s catnip for actors, but I found the show, which had some marvelous small touches, a bit of a showboat and self-congratulatory overall.

A third announced finalist, Stephen Karam’s Sons of the Prophet, would also have been worthy of the prize. It’s a smart, irreverent look at universalities like love, loss, suffering and solitude that always managed to avoid platitudes.

Heretofore, the only work of Hudes I had seen was In the Heights, for which she wrote the book and was also listed as a Pulitzer finalist three years ago. Hudes first made a splash with Pulitzer voters prior to that, however, thanks to her play Elliot, A Soldier’s Fugue. Fugue is the first of a three-part trilogy following the life of a young Marine. Spoonful is the second installment, and the upcoming The Happiest Songs Play Last, debuting at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre next spring, is the third chapter. I now have my work cut out for me to catch up to this intriguing talent.

Slightly more intriguing to me was the decision by the Pulitzer committee to award no work of fiction as the best of the last year. Now that’s a slap in the face to finalists like Karen Russell’s Swamplandia, Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams, and The Pale King, from the late David Foster Wallace. Plus I can think of several more superlative works from 2011 just off the top of my head: Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding, Eleanor Henderson’s Ten Thousand Saints, and Jean Thompson’s The Year We Left Home, and Justin Torres’ We the Animals. I’m not sure what criteria the given committee (which changes from year to year) feels merits earning a prize or not, but in my mind, just about any of these works would have been a worthy contender.

Alas, that’s the way the awards ball bounces in the critical world. Here’s hoping all of these works still find the audiences they richly deserve.

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